I first came across the title to this piece in the seminal My Name is Mina by David Almond. The home-educated Mina and her mother are on a walk, and her mother tells her about Paul Klee and his quote that: “Drawing is taking a line for a walk”. As is typical, Mina begins to reframe of this aesthetic in terms of language, conceiving ultimately of a kinship between walking and her own creative practice.
“So if drawing is like walking,” I say, “Then walking is like drawing.” (267)
“Maybe writing’s like walking as well.” (268)
In these extracts, David Almond starts to touch on the potent connection between language and physicality. It’s an idea perhaps most emphatically understood in the idea of the flâneur, that individual who aimlessly wandered the streets of the city, wrapped in gender and social privilege, but I am coming to find that an increasingly problematic construct. Talks of a flâneuse don’t necessarily help as I do not think the problem lies in regendering the role.
I suspect the problem lies for me in the performativity of the construct, that to be the wanderer is to be seen and recognised and understood as such. A wandering that is wrapped in identity. I seek, I think, for the lines to be blurred between individual and action, for the walk to be understood as integral to the city’s motion and heart and not to be performed like a fly skimming across the surface of the water.
Walking – wandering – to be understood not as textual performance, but rather as text within text. The sentence within the paragraph, the paragraph within the chapter.
Let’s try and unpack that a little. It involves a disassembling of what text is to begin with; that denial of the print and ink, and that movement towards something else. A language held within yourself; a body of words that tell a story each time you turn left, or get the number eleven bus to work. A person is a story, that much is true, but let’s push that a little bit more. Personstory. Deny the space between the words, and maybe even forget the person that wraps the edge of the story held inside us, just for a little bit, just whilst the sun shines and the sky burns endless blue. Be the story.
Consider a lunchtime in a park; a person reading a book. Is the story of the moment in their book, trapped between the page and cover, or is it all about them? The more I think about this, the more I let myself fall into the intoxication of thought, the more I think it is the latter. I suspect stories are moments, caught in the book, but the book is not all that they are. It never was. It never shall be. The characters that we love and understand are all about us. In our kitchens, our homes, our lives. The book is a moment; the story is forever.
Seek the lines within the city, and map them. I am increasingly obsessed with skylines and how capturing them, just the brief line of them – the shape of them – can help to understand them. Line is language, right? These words exist just because of the fact we all recognise an A is an A. We’ve accepted the code, become part of the agreement of language, become complicit in the lie that this is the only way to understand things.
You can find letters in buildings; the edges of them, the point where they touch the sky. Sometimes it’s not important to write. You don’t to have your magnum opus spill out grandly the moment you pick up a pen. Sometimes it’s more important to let your pen take a walk, as Klee would have it, and simply fall in love with the capture, the brief thread of rooftop that makes you start to see the city in a different way.
That, I suspect, is where the truth of wandering lies; that the similarity of wander and wonder is no falsehood.